It's that time of year again. The weather's warming up, bringing thoughts of easy, casual socialising or big occasion formality. The craziness of the spring racing carnival looms, end of year celebrations beckon, families enjoy (or possibly fear) togetherness, lovers do whatever lovers do. And the best adjunct to all of this has to be a glittering glass of fizz.
Never before have Australians been offered such a variety of sparkling wines, with something for every taste and budget. Australia's own top-end examples have never been better and our reasonably priced wines continue to improve.
Prosecco, whether the original Italian version or a local translation, is the flavour of the year. French champers can be incredibly good value for money as retail competition slashes prices, much to the chagrin of some French champagne houses, and French wines from small producers offer a different slant on this magical wine type.
Sweetness is nothing to be ashamed of in sparkling wine and there are many admirable variations on this theme, and Australia's unique sparkling reds bring their own robust charm.
It all adds up to a wonderful set of sparkling alternatives – here are some for you to consider when the corks are popping.
Pictured from left: Charles de Cazanove Brut Millesime 2007; Piper-Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV; De Bortoli King Valley Prosecco NV; Pirie Traditional Method NV; Stanton & Killeen Sparkling Shiraz NV.
Charles de Cazanove Brut Millesime 2007, $55-$75
Traditionally styled vintage champagne for the price of some ordinary non-vintage drops, this '07 opens with a complex nose blending nutty aged characters with citrus, candied apple and toasted baguette aromas. The palate is rich with a soft middle, full flavour, good structure and fine acid balance. Diam cork; 12 per cent alcohol.
Ageing? Drink over two years.
Stockists include Liquorland and Vintage Cellars stores.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV, $38-$60
Piper's red labelled non-vintage champagne offers classical character and great value if you shop around for the best price. It's drier than some, with appetising fine citrus and strawberry fruit harmoniously woven through yeasty bakery notes. It has good flesh and a sustained, lip-smacking finish. Cork; 12 per cent alcohol.
Stockists include Dan Murphy's stores.
De Bortoli King Valley Prosecco NV, $16-$18
An evocative, summery label conjures up the Italian Riviera on this carefree, appetising bubbly. Aromas of citrus peel, meringue and herbs lead through a soft, flowing palate, with a hint of sweetness, lip-smacking balance and dry finish. A true crowd-pleaser. Diam cork; 11.5 per cent alcohol.
Stockists include BWS stores; Dan Murphy's stores.
Pirie Traditional Method NV, $30-$32
Tasmania has emerged as Australia's sparkling wine heartland due to refined wines such as Pirie. It smells of citrus fruits, herbs and lightly toasted sourdough bread. It's mouth-filling, intense and lingering, with good texture, intensity and a feeling of real poise. Cork; 12 per cent alcohol.
Stockists include Prahran Cellars, Prahran (Vic); Elizabeth Street Cellars, Sydney (NSW).
Stanton & Killeen Sparkling Shiraz NV, Rutherglen, $38
From a well-established family winery, this is a lovely big mouthful of sparkling red that cries out for hearty food. Full red-purple coloured, with a spice and dark berry aroma, it has a full-bodied, firm-tannin palate with a nice touch of sweetness in the middle before a long, drying finish. Hearty barbecue fare. Diam; 13.8 per cent alcohol.
Ageing? Drink within about five years.
Pictured from left: Georges Vesselle Grand Cru a Bouzy Brut NV; Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut 2011; Ninth Island Brut Rosé NV; Chalmers Montevecchio Moscato Frizzante Heathcote 2017; Mezzacorona Mezza Italian Glacial Bubbly Extra Dry Sparkling NV.
Georges Vesselle Grand Cru a Bouzy Brut NV, Champagne, $89
From a family-run winery that uses only grapes from its own 17-hectare estate in the Bouzy grand cru, this is an impressive, appetising Champagne. Made from 90 per cent pinot noir and 10 per cent chardonnay, it's full-bodied, crisp, taut and nervy on the palate, finishing pleasantly clean and dry. Cork; 12 per cent alcohol.
Ageing? Best within 2-3 years.
Stockists include The Recreation, Fitzroy North, Olinda Cellars, Olinda, Toorak Cellars, Toorak (Vic).
Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut 2011, King Valley, $48
Bubbly is one of the few successes from this epic wet vintage. From the high-altitude Whitfield area of the King Valley, it's a full-bodied, character-filled style with a rose-gold tinge and a bouquet of nutmeg/spice, marzipan, toasted nuts and popcorn. The rich palate is enlivened by refreshing acidity. Cork; 12 per cent alcohol.
Ageing? Best within the next two years.
Stockists include Cellarbrations, Elsternwick and St Kilda (Vic); Dan Murphy's, Double Bay (NSW).
Ninth Island Brut Rosé NV, Tasmania, $20-$25
This is the budget label of Pipers Brook Vineyard, whose wines have recently been restored to their former status. A full salmon-pink colour leads into a bouquet of smoky strawberry, rose petals and dry straw, and the taste is crisp and lively with well-balanced acidity and a soft texture. It's remarkable value. Diam; 12.5 per cent alcohol.
Ageing? No: drink now.
Stockists include Amato's Liquor Mart, Bondi Beach Cellars, Jim's Cellars (NSW); Aus Cellar Door, Chas Cole Cellars, Greythorn Cellars (Vic).
Chalmers Montevecchio Moscato Frizzante Heathcote 2017, $22-$24
Deliciously zesty, this gently foaming, fragrant Victorian example of the low alcohol, sweet moscato type has floral, crushed grape, lemon sherbet bomb and gingery aromas. Sweet, lush and grapey in the mouth, it's perfumed, succulent and clean to taste. Screw cap; 5.5 per cent alcohol.
Stockists include The Clock Hotel, Surry Hills (NSW); The Melbourne Wine Store, St Kilda Road, Melbourne (Vic).
Mezzacorona Mezza Italian Glacial Bubbly Extra Dry Sparkling NV, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, $20
From northern Italy's hilly Trentino region, this is a youthful, grapey, lightly muscat-scented wine with light yellow-green colour and a foaming mousse. It's fresh, light and attractively fruity with a trace of sweetness leading into a clean finish. A good aperitif style. Cork; 12 per cent alcohol.